Have you ever diligently followed a training plan, eating clean, and pushed your limits in your weightlifting journey, only to find yourself trapped on a never-ending plateau?
Plateaus are a common challenge many weightlifters, both beginners and seasoned athletes face. They can slow down or halt your progress altogether. While a fitness plateau is discouraging, it indicates you’ve made progress. However, plateaus are not permanent. With the right strategies, you can reignite your progress and achieve new levels of strength and performance.
This article explores plateaus and the various effective strategies that can help you smash through them and continue your ascent toward your fitness goals.
What Is Plateau?
A fitness plateau is a stage in your fitness journey where you experience a significant slowdown or halt in your fitness progress despite consistent effort and dedication.
At the beginning of working out, whether you’re trying to increase your strength, build muscle, or lose weight, you’ll always see progress. That is because you have much power to gain or weight to lose. But as time goes by, your body adapts to the demands of your workouts, leading to a decrease or halt in the rate of improvement, which is a plateau.
Hitting a fitness plateau can make your workouts less effective and make you stick at a certain weight, unable to push past a particular level of performance, or unable to shed those last few pounds.
Causes of Fitness Plateau
Aside from your body being accustomed to the demand of your training, there are many reasons a plateau can occur. The reasons include the following:
While consistency is crucial in weight training, the body adapts to repetitive stimuli, resulting in diminished returns. As you do the same exercise over and over, your muscles become accustomed to the workload and stress it encounters for an extended period. As a result, your body becomes very efficient at doing the workout without a struggle and no longer experiences the same stress level required for growth and improvement, leading to a plateau.
Unhealthy Diet and Lifestyle
Fitness is not solely dependent on exercise; nutrition and lifestyle habits play a significant role. If you don’t feed on healthy nutrients your body needs, you will lack enough energy to power your workout to build muscles or lose weight. This may hinder your progress, resulting in a fitness plateau.
Also, poor lifestyles like excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and inadequate hydration can hinder your progress and contribute to a plateau.
Consistency is paramount in any fitness journey. Irregular workouts or prolonged breaks can lead to a fitness plateau. When you’re inconsistent, your body doesn’t have the opportunity to adapt and improve.
Additionally, an efficient training routine that targets only some major muscle groups or lacks variety can limit progress leading to a plateau.
Recovery is often underestimated but crucial for progressing in your fitness journey. When you constantly subject your body to intense workouts without sufficient time to recover, you risk entering a state of overtraining.
Overtraining can lead to fatigue, decreased performance, and a plateau in progress. Recovery includes proper nutrition, hydration, sleep, and rest days.
Not Pushing Yourself
Fitness progress requires pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone by consistently increasing the demands placed on your muscles.
Suppose you consistently stay within your comfort zone during workouts without increasing the intensity, weight, or difficulty of your exercise. In that case, you may not stimulate your muscles enough to promote growth and improvement.
Other reasons for hitting a plateau include the following:
- Failure to modify your calorie intake
- Training too often
- Training for an expanded period (extended hours)
- Doing the same workout for an extended time
Signs of Fitness Plateau
Below are signs of plateaus:
1. Strength Loss
The most common sign of hitting a plateau or overtraining is the feeling that you’ve lost overall strength. This may show in lacking the power to lift heavy weights or make progress in the lifts you were lifting before.
Your muscles may have adapted to the current workload, so instead of gaining weight, you start losing strength, or you may have worked your muscles too often that your body needs to rest and recover enough to grow more muscles to generate strength.
2. Lack of Motivation
Many reasons, including personal matters such as professional issues at work or family matters, can cause a lack of motivation. But if you lack a personal basis, it could be a fitness plateau.
Performing the same workouts, especially when not challenging, can be monotonous, causing you to lack enthusiasm and motivation. Also, a lack of progress and feeling stuck can decrease motivation and confidence for your workouts.
If the feeling of fatigue and tiredness accompanies the lack of motivation, your body may not have adequately recovered. Listen to your body and rest instead of pushing through with the training.
3. Lack of Progress
If you’re trying to increase muscle size by consistently working out, consuming an adequate amount of calories, and eating clean meals, you are expected to see and feel constant progress in your workout weekly.
If you find it difficult to progress in any workouts of two consecutive identical exercises by either increasing weights, adding reps, or improving your performance despite all your efforts, then it could be that your body has hit a plateau.
4. Lack of Muscle Definition or Size
If your fitness goal is to add lean muscle mass, your aim should be to gain about 1-2 lbs per week. But if you are working out, and your muscles appear flat or less toned than before or lack visible progress in weight or size after two consecutive weeks of workout; it could be a sign of a plateau.
If it happens, you should look at your current training routine, which might need to be optimized for muscle growth, and optimize it to target all major muscle groups. Also, include compound exercises and incorporate appropriate volume and intensity.
Additionally, evaluate your diet to ensure you consume enough calories, protein, or other essential nutrients to support muscle growth and fuel your workouts.
5. Increased Irritation
Intense or prolonged physical training without adequate rest and recovery can lead to plateau or overtraining. Plateau places excessive stress on your body, including your hormonal system. It may increase cortisol levels, while testosterone levels may decrease. Elevated cortisol levels can lead to increased irritability, mood swings, and decreased aggression, while reduced testosterone levels can affect motivation and drive.
7 Ways to Break Through Plateaus in Your Weightlifting Journey
Below are seven ways you can use to break plateaus through your weightlifting journey:
1. Modify Your Intensity
One way of hitting a plateau is to perform the same number of sets and reps under the same intensity for an extended period. When you exercise without modifying the acute variable, your body becomes accustomed to the pressure of the workout and learns an efficient way to complete the action without aggression.
An easy way to break this stagnation or diminished progress is to increase the intensity of the workout by reducing the number of reps and increasing the intensity. For instance, if your workout routine is 5 sets of 10-12 reps with lighter weights, reduce to 6-8 reps of the same set but with heavy weights.
You can also shorter rest periods between sets or perform exercises at a faster tempo. The increased intensity stimulates your muscles and forces them to adapt, leading to new gains.
As you select the heavyweight, ensure it’s a weight you can work with properly without undermining your breathing and the form of the most reps apart from the last rep.
2. Try New Routine
Plateaus often occur when your body adapts to a particular training routine. Introduce changes such as altering exercise order, adjusting sets and reps, incorporating new exercises, or trying different training techniques to break through. Changing the variables challenges your muscles in new ways and stimulates growth.
If you are used to HIIT exercises, try using a weight machine, elliptical trainer, or jumping on the treadmill. If you are used to machines, try free weights and resistance bands. It will challenge your muscles and train different muscle groups, preventing overuse injury. You can also use equipment such as a weighted vest, ankle weight, or wrist weights to put more stress on your muscles leading to muscle growth.
If you’re unmotivated, join an exercise class or group instead of solo training to boost your fitness motivation and connection to your workout.
3. Prioritize Recovery
Proper recovery is essential for breaking through plateaus. Ensure you get enough sleep. During rest (sleep), your body releases growth hormones that help your muscles repair and grow.
Get sufficient sleep, consume a well-balanced diet, and manage stress levels. Additionally, consider incorporating active recovery techniques such as foam rolling, stretching, or yoga to promote muscle repair and prevent overtraining.
4. Implement Progressive Overload
Progressive overload is critical to breaking through plateaus. Unlike intensity, where you increase the power and lower reps and recovery period, progressive overload increases all the demands on your muscles over time, ensuring continued progress.
This progressive approach ensures that your muscles are constantly adapting and growing. In fact, according to a 2019 review, adopting the concept of progressive overload to modify the routine’s frequency, intensity, and volume of your strength training regimen promotes muscle growth.
Aim to increase the weight, reps, or sets in your exercises regularly to force your muscles to adapt and grow stronger, breaking the plateau and allowing for new gains.
5. Eat Healthier Meals
While restricting calories is a fast way of shedding more pounds, it can hinder your progress toward your fitness goal by causing a plateau.
When you don’t adjust your caloric intake when your body needs more to fuel muscle growth, it turns to burn muscles instead of calories, reducing muscle mass. Since lean muscles play a vital role in metabolism, it will slow down metabolism, leading to slow burning of calories and eventually halting your fitness progress.
Evaluate your current eating habits and ensure you’re fueling your body with a balanced diet that includes lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables to support muscle growth.
6. Work with a Professional
Consider working with a qualified fitness professional, such as a personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach. They can provide expert guidance, assess your technique, and design a customized training program to help you break through a plateau to reach your fitness goals.
They can also offer encouragement, accountability, and motivation to help you break through plateaus and reach new performance levels.
7. Vary Your Exercises
Adding variety to your workouts is crucial for overcoming plateaus. If you’ve been stuck doing the same weightlifting exercises, try incorporating new movements or training techniques. This challenges your muscles differently and prevents them from adapting to the same routine. Additionally, trying different equipment or workout modalities can provide a fresh stimulus to spur progress.
In the exhilarating pursuit of building strength and achieving new milestones in your weightlifting journey, plateaus can be disheartening roadblocks that hinder your progress. However, breaking through these plateaus is possible and essential for continuous growth and improvement.
To shatter the chains of stagnation, embrace the power of change and adaptation. By modifying your training program, increasing intensity, implementing progressive overload, and varying your exercises, you can unlock new levels of strength and redefine your limits. Also, remember to optimize recovery and seek guidance from professionals who can provide expert advice tailored to your unique needs.